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Keep Enthusiasm From Going Over the Top at Commencement

June 16, 2008

We’re in the middle of high school graduation season, and already there are arrests.

The charge? The police report says public disorderly conduct. Exuberant celebration will do.

Six people at Fort Mill (S.C.) High School’s commencement were taken into police custody. Another man was arrested at the York (S.C.) Comprehensive High School’s ceremony. He stood up and yelled when his cousin’s name was called.

It sounds excessive, even amusing _ that is, unless you were the one handcuffed and hauled off to jail.

It also sounds a mite selfish.

“I just thought they were going to escort me out,” said one of the folks who now have an arrest record. Since he came to honor his cousin’s achievement, you’d think he’d want to stay for the entire graduation.

Attendees were apparently warned of the consequences of breaking the rules, set in place to prevent whistles and cheers from drowning out the name of the next graduate.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg supplies a detailed list and an explanation.

“For security reasons, and to keep the focus on graduates, guests will not be allowed to bring the following items into the graduations: flowers, duffel bags, fanny packs, backpacks, gifts, balloons, air horns and noisemakers.”

No one has ever been arrested at a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, or CMS graduation ceremony for cheering too loud, officials say. If guests become too unruly, “they would be asked to decrease their enthusiasm.” (Think of a police officer tapping someone on the shoulder and saying, “Could you please decrease your enthusiasm?)

As rules go, these don’t sound arbitrary or repressive.

All students have the right to be honored; the grown-ups can save the partying for later. You don’t want high-school graduation to turn into a competition for loudest send-off.

It’s easy, though, to understand both sides in this one.

I realized how involuntary the urge could be when my sister-in-law received her doctorate from Columbia University last month.

When they read her name, with a doctor in front of it, I was so proud, I cheered. Yes, I was careful to shut up before the next doctor’s name was announced. I felt ashamed for losing it, until she came up to me after and said, “I heard you,” and smiled.

Imagine the students who don’t get many cheers in their lives and the families without a lot to cheer about. With sacrifice behind you and uncertainty ahead, this is a moment to savor.

Maybe you had planned to keep your seat and your dignity but couldn’t suppress the yell when your child marched across the stage for that diploma. If he or she is the first in the family to reach that milestone, it might be impossible to stay in your seat.

But what of the next student’s moment and another family’s sacrifice? High-school graduation is about more than one child.

So commencement _ which means beginning _ can be the start of life lessons on the way to college, a job and adulthood.

There’s a time and place for everything, though sometimes emotion gets the better of you.

Just be wary when handcuffs are involved, and always leave the air horn at home.

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(Contact the writer: Mary C. Curtis: mcurtis@charlotteobserver.com.)

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(c) 2008, The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.).

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